Tory Sleaze

In the light of the continuing scandals besetting the Tory party it is hard to reconcile the much-quoted promise of Rishi Sunak that he would lead a government that would have “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level,” with the reality that is the Tory party today.

The latest scandals, involving William Wragg and Mark Menzies show, at a very minimum, a complete lack of judgement on both their parts. The justification of Wragg and Menzies for their behaviours was that they had “got involved with some very bad people.” So passing on the private information of colleagues to someone he met on a gay app in Wragg’s case or raiding Tory coffers to pay off a ‘rent boy’ who was holding him captive, in Menzies’ case, was nothing to do with their actions.

However, far worse than these extreme lapses of judgement are the shenanigans of the Tory Party machine in its efforts to try and ensure that these sordid episodes were kept out of the public domain. It is reported that the agent who was phoned at 3 am by Mark Menzies to ‘rescue’ him with Tory party cash reported the matter to Tory Party HQ three months ago and nothing was done.  It is also alleged that the scandal with William Wragg came to light months ago, and, again, the Prime Minister, who says he believes in integrity, professionalism and accountability, did nothing. Both Wragg and Menzies have made the decision to resign although not until after the election.

Tory hypocrisy over Angela Rayner

It is interesting to contrast the way the allegations involving Wragg and Menzies have been handled compared to the cynical handling of the Angela Rayner case by the Tory party and members of their supportive media. The irony of the self-righteous Lord Ashcroft, who uses offshore trusts to protect his wealth criticising Angela Rayner over whether she was liable to pay capital gains tax on the sale of her former council house before she became an MP is breathtaking. The issue is not whether people like Angela Rayner has broken any rules, it is the disproportionate attention given to this allegation compared to the scrutiny given to the  extreme examples of Tory sleaze and the illegality and border illegality of the wealthy in their efforts to protect their wealth.

A recent tweet pointed out that Dan Hodges, the right-wing Daily Mail columnist had sent or retweeted 66 negative tweets about Angela Rayner, three tweets about Mark Menzies and two tweets about William Wragg.

 A woman on Question Time on 18th April was applauded when she pointed out: “It seems a bit coincidental that they are picking on a woman, a strong northern woman, a working class woman who has raised herself up, who stands up for the likes of me. And they are picking on her because they think they can.”

The sense of entitlement of the super-rich

Meanwhile the sense of entitlement of the super-rich is unbelievable. Ken Murphy, Tesco’s UK CEO, is the highest paid supermarket boss. He receives a salary of £4,740,000 a year but is registered to pay tax in the Republic of Ireland. This means that not a penny of this outrageous salary is collected in tax, despite almost all Tesco’s earnings coming from the UK.

HMRC claims that £36bn was lost to the exchequer last year simply because people do not pay their taxes. Shockingly, that figure is £5bn higher than that lost in the previous year. It represents a third of total government spending on education. Furthermore, the tax gap does not start to take account of the billions lost each year when global companies such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft avoid tax by creating financial structures that have no other purpose than to avoid paying tax.

This week, the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, made a rare policy announcement attacking corruption at the highest level. She promised that Labour would act to tackle tax dodging. She said that £36bn is a very conservative estimate of the gap between what the exchequer does collect and what is due – what is known as the tax gap. For instance, many wealthy individuals hide their assets in secret trusts they set up overseas in British tax havens – and they pay no tax on that hidden wealth.

We can but hope that this will not be another pledge that fails to materialise.

King Charles exempt from farming laws

Alongside the sense of entitlement of the super-rich is an arrogance that drives their beliefs that they should not have to follow the same rules as the rest of us.  For example, King Charles cannot be prosecuted under a new farming law in an exemption reluctantly agreed by the Welsh government.

It is reported that Buckingham Palace phoned Welsh officials last year asking for assurances that the King would not be prosecuted under the Agriculture Wales Act.

Documents released by the Welsh Government show a government minister was “not happy” but agreed to the request.  However, a formal statement from the Welsh Government said immunity of the monarch from prosecution was a “long-established principle”.

Expressing concerns about the story, first reported by the Guardian, Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said it was an “anachronism that had no place in Welsh democracy”.

The exemption means the monarchy cannot be prosecuted for breaching rules on agricultural product standards, the classification of carcasses or the sharing of data, and that his properties cannot be entered by force.

Boris Johnson continues to ignore the rules

It is perhaps no surprise that Boris Johnson continues to feature in this column. There is not even a veil of pretence of integrity and honesty in his behaviours.

He is another one who believes rules and procedures are not for the likes of him.  For the second time in less than a year he has crossed swords with the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACBO), set up to ensure there is no conflict of interest in post-government roles.  When Johnson left office, he immediately took up a role with The Daily Mail without following the usual procedures. In the more recent example, where he has refused to be open about his relationship with the hedge-fund, Merlyn Advisors, on whose behalf he met the Venezuelan president, Eric Pickles described him as ‘evasive’.  The breach was seen as so significant that it was reported to the Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden. Eric Pickles did not mince his words. He said that Johnson had avoided answering specific questions and had “refused to be open about his relationship with Merlyn Advisors.” 

The problem is, of course, that this is water off a duck’s back for Johnson. He just doesn’t care. Pickles has already warned that the current arrangements are toothless. They cannot work without the cooperation of the applicants and the departments. They are unenforceable with applicants determined to ignore them, and Johnson has shown a total disregard for any procedures that get in the way of him doing exactly what he wants to do. 

The Covid gravy train

The scandal of the amount of money made by unscrupulous individuals who managed to get on to the VIP lane for government contracts during the Covid pandemic continues to shock and anger in equal measure. The Good Law Project  has set out the latest abuse of the system that has come to light.

In May 2020, a socialite, Zoe Appleyard Ley, decided to move from selling premium dog food to establishing a new company that would act as a ‘bridge’ between Hong-Kong based Worldlink Resources and the government, with a view to supplying PPE.

Ley teamed up with former Conservative MP, Brooks Newmark, to lobby Matt Hancock and other ministers on behalf of Worldlink Resources.  Within a month the company had won two huge contracts, worth £258m, to supply gowns and safety goggles after being referred to the VIP lane by Lord Agnew, a minister at the Cabinet Office in 2020.

It is difficult to know how the value for money criterion was met as the PPE was supplied at between 1-1.5 times higher than the average amount at the time. Also, over £106m worth of the equipment was unable to be used in a medical setting.  

It is perhaps then no surprise that in its first year of trading, Ley’s company recorded a staggering £17.6m profit. This dropped in 2022 to a loss of over £1.1 million.  The tax return included a “charitable donation” of £4,499 – listed under political donations.

The rewards for Ley were huge. After setting up another new company – Life Real Estate – the company was able to buy a beautiful and prestigious rectory for £7.25 million.

Lawyers acting for Ley have denied that she made undue profits on the backs of taxpayers – !!!

Taxpayers paid £15,000 to settle Michelle Donelan’s libel case based on a secret dossier

It has now come to light, after a great deal of prevarication on the part of the department, that the taxpayer picked up the £15,000 damages Michelle Donelan, the Science Secretary, was required to pay to two academics she accused of “sharing extremist views”.

The fact that these tweets were based on a secret dossier Michelle Donelan had required officials in her department to compile on a group of academics is even more troubling. This secret dossier was exposed by the journalist Poppy Wood in the i newspaper.

A senior Government source confirmed that the document was drawn up by special advisers in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) after Michelle Donelan requested information on a specific group of academics.

The 11-page Government dossier catalogued three years’ worth of one academic’s posts on X, formerly Twitter, alongside their likes, retweets, academic literature and upcoming events.

Ms Donelan wrote to UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) claiming that a number of academics on its expert advisory group on equality, diversity and inclusion had shared “extremist” posts, either appearing to support Hamas or criticising Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

In the letter, which she shared with her 38,000 followers on X, Ms Donelan accused Professor Kate Sang, an academic at Heriot-Watt University, of describing Suella Braverman’s crackdown on Hamas support in the UK as “disturbing”.

The Science Secretary also accused Dr Kamna Patel, an associate professor at University College London (UCL), of retweeting a post likening Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip to a “genocide”.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents the two academics, said it proved Ms Donelan’s intervention marked an “outrageous attack on academic freedom”.

Jo Grady, the union’s general secretary, said: “There are also serious questions for the Government to answer over why it compiled a disturbing and heavily detailed dossier to target those whose views do not align with its right-wing agenda.

The fact that the public have been asked to cover the costs of these sinister and deeply disturbing actions on the part of a minister are deeply worrying even by the standards of this government.

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